Help me prepare for an upcoming job interview without losing my mind!
August 4, 2022 9:46 AM   Subscribe

I have a job interview (my first one since leaving my previous job) in exactly a week from now! I'm obviously excited and pleased, but I've been having a difficult time sitting down and preparing for it. To be honest, I've spent the last few days actively avoiding preparing for my job interview... then feeling bad about avoiding preparing for my interview. I haven't had a job interview in over a year and I'm a pretty nervous interviewee on a good day. What would be a good "routine"/"schedule" for me to follow during the next 7 days to ensure I'm solidly prepared for this interview?

I have to be honest, I've been *avoiding* preparing for this interview for the past few days. I've *literally* ran away from my problems and spent the last two days (and I'll probably spend part of today doing this as well), but indulging in a frivolous hobby that requires full concentration. I feel *bad* for not preparing for my interview, but then this feeling makes me avoid preparing for the interview even more blah blah blah... self sabotage. Today I woke up so nervous about my interview and it's in a week!!

I think I've been avoiding preparing for the interview because I'm just truly shocked that... I have an interview at all! I put off applying for this job until literally the last day. I was so surprised to hear back from them. I'm so nervous about not getting the job, about getting the job, etc. that I keep telling myself not to worry about it because "I probably won't get the job anyway." (Yeah, that's not the best way to view things, I know.)

During my last round of job interviews I had a mentor who would help me practice interview questions, but this time around I don't have anyone to help me (I've been pretty much a persona non grata with that supposed "mentor" since I quit my previous job. I feel like I don't even know where to begin when it comes to answering questions about my previous job... I feel so embarrassed trying to figure out a GOOD (non-suspicious answer) for how to discuss quitting my last job and WHY I'm not using anyone as a reference from there (they're all horrible people that I'd never trust to give me a *good* reference). Truly acknowleding this stuff in an interview fills me with dread... even thinking about "Tell me about yourself??" this time around makes me want to puke!

All that said, I can't sabotage myself, this job would be a great opportunity if I get it. I really want to have a good interview and leave a good impression, even if I don't get the job. I'm pretty happy with myself for getting an interview for the *first* job I've applied to since quitting in January!! I've been avoiding job searching all together (I've been working casually with one of my old employers since then), so I was pretty amazed to get an interview at all!

Anyway... I guess my question is, how do I:

a) answer/confront questions like "Why did you leave your previous job?"/"Tell me about yourself"/"Why do you want to work here?" without... giving "poor" answers about my previous job? I would say that I'm in a much better place when it comes to how I view that job now, BUT... I'm not great at talking about it yet in "professional" and "neutral" terms (just because I don't talk about it!)

b) I haven't had a job interview in a year, is there a good "schedule" or "routine" that could guide me for the next 7 days so I feel suitibly prepared? I get very all-or-nothing about job interviews, where I feel like I have to be preparing for them *literally* every hour of the day, like I'm cramming for an exam! I get so worried about giving all the "correct" answers that in the past I've obviously overprepared. (Like, I have a book club meeting coming up next week and I feel... guilty... for reading a book, when I should be spending every second (according to my dumb brain) preparing for the interview. I also have no one to practice with, which makes everything a bit weird this time around!!
posted by VirginiaPlain to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Set aside 20 minutes a day 3 times a day to prepare for your interview. Do one in the morning (say, before 10am), one in the afternoon, (say, before 2pm) and one in the evening, (say, before 6pm).

In the morning time slot, gather information and notes about projects, accomplishments, insights you have you have had that you want to make sure you bring up in your interview. This is the time To dig into why you are so awesome. Pump yourself up.

In the midday time slot, tackle taking notes on questions you think might come up. Start with tricky ones and move on to softballs. Start matching your notes from the morning to questions. Do some of this out loud, record yourself and listen back.

In the evening sessions, either do more of the above or work on ancillary things like researching the company, preparing what you’ll wear or other planning.

Commit to spending 20 minutes each time and if you’re on a roll keep going but wrap it up by 1 hour.

In the later evening, do some kind of self care: yoga, take a walk, drink a bunch of water, do a beauty ritual.

In between, if you want to, read some articles or listen to podcasts about your industry or the company, but only if you think those will get you excited.
posted by vunder at 10:01 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]

Look at Ask A Manager's magic question and rehearse asking it. And you might like to look at her other interviewing advice.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:07 AM on August 4 [4 favorites]

Talk to friends and family who are on your team and think you're great. Ask them to give you pep talks. Do things that make you feel strong and competent, on purpose and not as a distraction.

Don't cram or over prepare. I like the suggestion of 20-minute sessions. You should feel prepared, but don't obsess over it. Try to put some time into applying for other jobs so you don't feel like you NEED this job. Make a schedule that includes fun things as well as a modest amount of prep and stick to it.
posted by momus_window at 10:24 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]

The above is pretty perfect advice! Here's what I'd add:

You are good enough. You are not a bad or lazy person. This is a really normal thing - procrastinating prepping for a job interview! I have done it, as have many people I know. Also, you experienced a toxic work environment and so this process comes with anxiety that is absolutely a reasonable reaction. There are workplaces that are better than your old job. There are places where coworkers are kind and thoughtful, managers believe in you and want the best for you, and you feel connected to and excited about the work. It is possible. I think you can find it and you can excel in that environment. I will be thinking about you.

As an alternative schedule, you can put all the parts of vunder's schedule above into one consecutive hour per day. That might work better for some folks. Either way, I think that amount of time is very reasonable, and gives you lots of time to procrastinate or recover. :) It also means if you put this off for a few more days, you can do 2 hours a day and still be amply prepared!

For questions that might come up, here is a general list. Google "interview questions [job title]" for more specific ones to add. Copy these into a document, and then write your answers out. The act of writing them out will help you formulate the best language, and help them stay in your memory. I think vunder's suggestion to plug in your accomplishments is a good one here.

Additionally, in the "evening sessions" or toward the end of your prep, write out 5 - 10 questions to ask at the interview. Ask A Manager's magic question (above) is indeed magic and you should include it! You are allowed to bring this list with you in a folder or notebook - you don't need to memorize it.

In answer to (a):
Why did you leave your previous job?
I realized that [past workplace] was not the right fit for my skillset, and so I stepped away from the role. I know I'm looking for [something more public-facing / a more team-based approach / a more sustainable work-life balance / the opportunity to build strong relationships with my team and manager / etc.] I was fortunate enough to be able to take some time to really find work that excites me, and for which I'm well suited, and I was thrilled to see this job ad!

Tell me about yourself.
Short answers are okay here! A couple of biological facts, an explanation of how you came to this field from your educational background, what you're looking for right now, and how friendly coworkers might describe you ("folks have told me I'm very detail-oriented" or "I keep a very organized workspace but I'm known for my creativity, too" etc.)

Why do you want to work here?
Take a look at their mission statement or other public statements, and connect with some aspect of the work they do. Write out why this is the first job you've applied for over the past six months, and there's your answer! :)

In general, when referring to the past position: It wasn't the right fit. It made sense for me to take some time off, and I'm so excited to get back to work. I am looking for [opposite of what you hated about past job]. Keep focusing on the future and what you're looking for. You are worth it!
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 10:31 AM on August 4

Popping in to say that they may not ask why you left your last job at all--especially in these times.
I had several interviews with public libraries after I quit my previous library job back in November--I was NEVER asked why I'd left. So yes, be ready (answer right above seems perfect to me!) but it might not even come up.
posted by bookmammal at 10:37 AM on August 4

I have been told that I interview fairly well. My process is to look online for likely interview questions - both the standard ones and ones specific to positions like the one I'm interviewing for - and make a list of those plus any that occur to me. I take time to write out and semi-polish answers to these questions, then I practice performing them - basically, I just talk to the air if I don't have someone willing to sit through it with me.

I also looked up interview question answers on the internet and read a bunch of them and read a bunch of interview tips on Ask A Manager.

The last time I interviewed, I did have to do a lot of "talk to the air" due to timing and I felt that it worked pretty well. The main thing was to practice each chunk of answer enough times that I could cue into the primary contents from memory. I didn't need or want to memorize the wording but I wanted to have my main points ready in my mind - like "my example for a time when I solved a complex problem with a lot of stakeholders is X and the important incidents of X are 1, 2 and 3".

I'd say that I probably put in about four hours of preparation all told, spread out over a few days.
posted by Frowner at 10:40 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]

Is this an in-person or a Zoom interview?

If in-person, practice getting dressed and even going to the location where you will be doing your interview. You want to feel confident about arriving on time and calm.

If it's a Zoom interview, make sure your software is updated, your lighting and sound is on-point, and your space is uninterrupted by background sounds and distractions.

A job interview is a kind of public presentation, and the way to get better at presentations is to practice. Rehearse your answers til they come as second nature.

I would emphasize practicing your answers out loud. The idea is to exercise your vocal cords, mouth, and breathing in a way that gets you used to physically forming your speech. You can do it while doing other things. I like to talk into a recorder while on a walk.

Come up with stories to tell about you as a worker that showcase your achievements and abilities. It can also be stories about you as a volunteer or how you've shown leadership in your book club.

I know prepping for this kind of thing is the worst, but there is an end point and you will feel amazing after it is done, no matter how it goes. Good luck!
posted by olopua at 12:10 PM on August 4

I also have no one to practice with, which makes everything a bit weird this time around!!

Sometimes practicing with someone can be good not just for the rehearsal, but also just to get you out of your head a bit, to be able to laugh about stupid interview questions, to confess your dread out loud, to force yourself to do it, and so on. It doesn't really need to be someone in the field - whoever it is can ask you questions you hand them, or just use some of the standard generic interview questions you might get.

If you're sure no friends or acquaintances would be up for practicing with you (and I'd ask before ruling anyone out!), then consider posting online (maybe here on Jobs, maybe somewhere local if you want it to be in person). I like helping people prepare for interviews and I doubt I'm unique.
posted by trig at 12:14 PM on August 4

"Why did you leave your previous job?"
"Oh, gosh, it became apparently very quickly that the organization wasn't the right fit for my skills and interests and professional goals. I met some lovely people there and really enjoy working with their patrons, and it helped me clarify my professional interests."

"Why do you want to work here?"
There are a few layers you can address in your answer: why that specific position; why that library or organization; why that location (if it's not in your current town); how it fits into your professional goals. I recommend a combination of at least two. I would leave out the appeal of the location if you're not addressing everything else (I am in a town that people want to live in, and we want to hear an answer that's more than just about why they want to move here). Anyway, this answer can look something like this: "I was thrilled to see the position open because I am interested in X kind of role. I was also quite interested to see that [organization] is [doing this innovative/interesting thing] and am excited about the possibility of being part of that effort. My skills seem well-suited to this kind of work, and I thrive in environments where I can Z."

As for general prep: I would think one of the best ways to prep for this would be to have positive conversations about this job and your past work out loud. Writing it down could help too. You could practice writing out some answers as a way to refresh your memory. And I'd say to ask a friend to run through a few questions with you, not to critique your answers, but to give you a chance to say things out loud.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:59 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]

I also agree that, if you're applying for a library job, they are unlikely to ask you specific questions about your resume in an interview, especially for the first round. My experience is that search committees have a set of questions they are going to ask everyone. If you're at the phone interview stage, they probably aren't going to quiz you about your specific resume and experience but more asking general questions that a range of candidates could answer.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:01 PM on August 4

I personally would not spend 1 hour a day for the next 7 days preparing for a first round librarian interview. I would probably sit down once and write down a good answer to "Tell us about yourself". I had 10 librarian interviews this summer and they all started with that. When you are thinking about that answer, think about how your experience and education prepared you for this job that you are interviewing for. Research the place you are interviewing at and try to identify their "It" thing. Are they big on technology? Children's programming? Are they serving a diverse population?

Then you can search for field specific interview questions and prepare answers for those. Make notes and take the notebook into the interview with you. That way you will be prepared a) to write down the interview questions and b) have a list of stories or things you want to talk about in the interview. You can also write down questions you want to ask the interviewer. I like to ask what the day-to-day of the position looks like and why the position is vacant (did someone retire, is it a new position). When I was on a hiring committee, someone asked me what my favorite part of working at my library was. If they hesitate before answering that, it may be a red flag about the workplace. When I interview for school librarian positions, I always bring a list of children's books I like because I always choke on that question.

Diversity is a hot topic in library interviews right now, as well as how to handle book challenges. Give specific examples of your work experience. If they ask about why you left your last job, you can say something along the lines of it not fitting with your career goals and why this job you're interviewing for is a better fit. Or tell a white lie and say you had to take care of a relative temporarily. Definitely do not use anyone from the bad job as a reference. Make sure the people you do ask to be a reference will say nice things about you.

I think if you work on this every day for the next week, you will be over-preparing and getting yourself too worked up over this job. I would prep, then try to relax for a few days, maybe apply for some other jobs, try on your interview clothes to make sure they fit and look good, and then revisit your notes the day of the interview. I have found that the less I care about the outcome of the interview, the better it goes. Good luck!
posted by DEiBnL13 at 8:33 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]

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